Thoughts: In transit, in limbo, the weirdness of air travel. (2013)

I remember reading the blurb on the back of an album cover by Moby once, the record was entitled ‘Hotel‘, and inside the little booklet in the front, the artist takes a philosophical look at hotels. I won’t go into too much detail, but ultimately he goes deeper than the obvious functional use of a hotel and more into how they are essentially a ‘single serving home’. It provides the guest a home for one night, and a home for a different person every night. Any trace or memory of any resident is then deleted the next morning by the cleaning staff which means a clean slate each time.

This thought came to me while I sat in the transit lounge of Kuala Lumpur International Airport while passing 4 hours until my connecting flight to Sydney. It got me thinking about how unusual being ‘In Transit’ is for a traveller.  Allow me to explain my thoughts…

I had left London at midday and considering it was a 10-hour flight, my body clock was telling me it was now 10pm. I went to order myself a beer at the airport bar and log into the wifi. At this point after a few sips and entering the wifi pin six times to no avail, I notice the guy sat at the next table is enjoying a coffee and a croissant. I look again at my pint and back to the coffee and croissant. I did some basic calculations, and if it was 10pm back home and Malaysia is +8 hours from the UK, then it’s breakfast time here and why am I drinking a beer? And why are they even serving beer at 6am?

Now feeling slightly self-conscious at my new found alcoholism and liquid breakfast, I considered the point further. Effectively being in transit is a purgatory where the usual boundaries of existence that we have created in the modern world cease to exist…

I am sat in the tropics, and it is 6am. The sun should be just rising, and I imagine the weather should be warm and humid. However, the light inside the terminal building is a constant bright white provided courtesy of fluorescent electric lighting and the lack of windows. Indeed, the air is dry and cool thanks to the air conditioning systems running throughout the terminal, so much so that I am sat quite comfortably in long pants and a hoody. My surroundings are telling my body nothing of the time of day or climatic conditions.

Where in the world am I? I’ve been electronically ‘stamped’ out of the UK but not yet been stamped into anywhere. Geographically I am in Asia, but politically I am nowhere.

Even down to the price that I paid for my beer. ‘Eleven ringgit‘. Until my statement came through and I saw the conversion to a familiar currency, I had no idea of the value of this drink. I just obligingly handed over my MasterCard and just assumed I was paying above average as I was in an airport. In the human ‘number-craving’ conscious mind, my bottle had an unknown value. I had nothing to compare it to, it was simply 11 ringgit.

And so for that four-hour period I had;

  • No grasp of time either on a physiological level (hunger, tiredness, etc.) or a physical level. (Temperature, ambient light etc.)
  • No concept of the weather or the outside world
  • No grasp of monetary value.
  • No political existence in any country.

And the same goes for all the other people in the terminal. I saw  Arabs, Jews, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Americans, and the countless others flying in and then away again. From, and to, every part of the world. Some of them tired, others wide awake. Some felt hungry, while others had just eaten breakfast (or dinner!). Some felt too hot, yet others too cold. Some were confused and scared of what lay ahead, and perhaps others regretting what they are leaving behind. Many of them no doubt returning from a successful business trip, others maybe have just lost everything. I see kids, grandparents, and everyone in between. All living for a short time together in one building, and yet all of them so different; operating on different clocks, schedules, and routines. But the one thing that unites us all is that all of us cease to be anywhere except in this limbo, forced to wait until they can re-enter the world into a new time, climate, and culture.

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